What’s for Dinner?

September 7, 2010

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Bacon Leek and Horseradish Macaroni and Cheese

Labor Day Weekend!  The very words put me in a frenzied have-to-get-in-all-the-tastes-of-summer mode—before it (summer, and warm weather, and backyard volleyball, and BBQ-ing ) is all too soon gone.

So this Labor Day, the menu was Barbecued Pork Ribs (naturally), Coleslaw and Macaroni and Cheese.  But not just any ordinary Mac-n-Cheese:  Bacon, Leek and  Horseradish Mac and Cheese!

Bacon Leek and Horseradish Macaroni and Cheese

Bacon Leek and Horseradish Macaroni and Cheese - Ready for the oven!

How did I come up with that combo, you ask?   Easy! *smile*

Bacon: A no-brainer, really: I love bacon, always have some in the fridge, and well, just about everything is better with bacon!

Leeks:  A few years ago there was a recipe by Grace Parisi in Food and Wine for a Mac and Cheese made with Sauteed Leeks and Manchego cheese…I made it and loved it, but most especially the addition of the leeks….and have since added leeks to any number of my other versions of mac and cheese.  And since I often have leeks on hand, as I did this weekend, I decided to add them in this time too.  Leeks (like onions) and Bacon, are fairly a match made in Heaven!

Horseradish:  We’re a family–my dad especially–that enjoys a bit of ‘bite’ in our food.  Since the leeks get mellow when sauteed, I thought the addition of horseradish would be a good counterpoint….and further, here, the ‘cooked’ horseradish would echo the taste of the ‘raw’ horseradish we used in the coleslaw.

It came together into a deliciously complex, yet still nice-and-homey-tasting, Macaroni and Cheese.  And it was those extra flavor additions that really made it hold its own next to the richly sauced ribs.  A good plain cheddar Macaroni and Cheese is a great side-dish for ribs, but a Bacon, Leek and Horseradish Macaroni and Cheese makes it an equal partner on the plate—leaving only the coleslaw and biscuits as sides.  *smile*

Naked Bacon Leek and Horseradish Mac and Cheese

Naked Bacon Leek and Horseradish Mac and Cheese

Bacon Leek and Horseradish Macaroni and Cheese

6 slices of Bacon, cooked, cooled and crumbled into largish-chunks (so it doesn’t burn in the oven) (**see note)

2 large Leeks, or 4 small, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch half moon rounds (***see note)
2 TBS Butter

4 TBS Butter
4 1/2 tablespoons Flour
1 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Mustard Powder
1/2 teaspoon White Pepper
4 cups Milk
1 teaspoon Salt

1 pound Pasta (I used Medium Shells)
3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
8 dashes Hot Sauce
2 TBS Horseradish  (I use the prepared stuff in the jar–make sure you use the white, the purple will end up an unappetizing gray.) (**** see note)
16 ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese, coarsely shredded, divided
1/2 cup Romano Cheese, finely grated/shredded, divided
2 cups coarse Fresh Bread Crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. and butter a glass 13×9 baking dish.

Bacon:  If your bacon isn’t cooked, cook it now as you usually do.  Set aside to drain and cool.

Saute the leeks:  Heat a skillet, add the two tablespoons of butter and saute the leeks on medium-low heat until tender.  Season a bit with salt and pepper.

[You can cook the bacon and the leeks at the same time, but do not start the Bechamel until both are ready and your cheeses are grated/shredded.]

In a large pot bring salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta.

For the Topping: In a medium bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups Cheddar Cheese, 1/4 cup Romano Cheese and the 2 cups Fresh Bread Crumbs. Add in the crumbled bacon.  Set Aside.

[I put the bacon in the topping rather than mixed into the pasta and bechamel.  This helps retain the crisp texture and the flavor of the bacon comes through much more than if it were coated in sauce, giving you a much bigger bacon-flavor bang for you bacon-slice-buck. *smile*]

Make the Bechamel: In a heavy saucepan melt butter over medium heat and stir in flour, paprika, dry mustard and white pepper. Cook roux, whisking 3 minutes, then whisk in milk and salt. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3-5 minutes more. At this point, the sauce should have thickened nicely. Remove pan from heat.

Stir pasta into pot of boiling water and boil, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

Drain pasta, then pour back into the same pot, adding the Béchamel, Worcestershire, Hot Sauce, Horseradish and the remaining Cheddar and Romano Cheeses. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle the cheese, bacon and breadcrumb mixture over top.*

Bake macaroni and cheese about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*You can make this a day ahead: just stop at this point, cover well– first with plastic wrap, then with aluminum foil–and chill. To bake, remove plastic wrap, but put foil back on. Bake covered for 35 minutes, then remove foil and bake another 20 minutes or so, until browned and bubbling.

Notes:

** I almost never have to cook bacon for a recipe, I usually have some already cooked in the fridge.  So take a tip from me:  the next time you have to cook a few slices of bacon for anything, go ahead and cook the whole pound. Cooking bacon takes time, and is messy, so once you’re at it, why not go the whole way?  Keep it in the fridge and reheat the slices as you need them (a minute or two in a skillet or 30 seconds in a microwave).  Sprinkle them over salads, on your next baked potato with sour cream, bring a few to work for a quick blt lunch…you’ll find yourself using them almost every time you spy them in the fridge…and will be amazed at how much flavor just a little bit of bacon will add to dishes you wouldn’t have thought or taken the time to cook bacon specifically for.

*** I follow the advice from Grace Parisi and use the top, generally inedible (they’re so tough) dark green ends of the leeks, rather than trimmed whole leeks.  So if you want to use the lighter, more tender part of the leeks for something else, and use the tops here, by all means do it!  Just be sure to cut the dark green tops into thin, thin rounds and cook as described above.  They’ll take a while longer to get soft, but they will soften and they’ll taste delicious….and will give you twice as much leek for your money!

****You can substitute 16 ounces of Horseradish Cheddar Cheese in place of the Sharp Cheddar and Prepared Horseradish.  I’ve done it a few times and it tastes great!  Also feel free to play around with the amount of prepared horseradish you use—it all depends on the potency of the horseradish (has the jar been open for a while and lost some of its bite?) and how you like things.  I generally use 2-4 TBS—simply taste the Bechamel before mixing with the pasta and adjust to your liking. And the same goes for the salt and pepper, too—thought the guidelines above are usually spot on for me.

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Filed Under: Mains, Recipe, Savory, Sides, What's For Dinner

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